Ted Talks: “Sweep the Leg!” (Blog or Die! Entry #2)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: Ted Andes

Word Count: 2090

Ted Talks: “Sweep the Leg!”


If you are a “constant reader” of the Manifesto, you may have read past articles about award motivation (“Give me the prize!”“), or about tips for throwing a good building contest (“Party Hosting Tips”)… But what about how to actually win them, you ask? Gather round, young grasshoppers. It’s time for me to lay down some advice on how to compete at the highest level, and how to take down those heavyweight champions of the world.

Who am I to give that kind of advice? I’m just some bum in a fedora hat and black leather jacket… a bum who clawed his way out of the unwashed masses of “also-rans” to win 7 building contests (and counting) and place in the prize categories of at least 5 more. Yo Adrien! Be warned that once you are armed with this advice I’m about to give you, victory is still never assured. It is still dependent on how the contests are judged and who else shows up to compete. However, if you DO want to be a champion of the MOC-tagon, then it’s time that you started training like a champion. Now “Bow to your sensei!

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Hit the gym
Your gym training ritual is still built on the foundation of becoming a better builder: “Wax on. Wax off.”… Oops, I mean “Build your collection – Build some contest MOC’s – Get critiqued – Repeat”. Over time, you will develop your signature style and a bevy of NPU techniques in your personal arsenal. Whenever you lose a bout, put down those sour grapes, pick yourself up, and learn from the builders who are winning these contests. What have they got that you haven’t got?…

Know your enemy
For each contest you enter, study the genre, the judges, and the competition (and the rules too; don’t be “that guy”). See what has been done before. Learn what defines the genre. Learn the judges’ style preferences. Learn the techniques and tricks of the top builders of the genre… then look for their blind spots. What haven’t they done before? Are there any ruts that your competition have fallen into that you can exploit? Will they be overconfident and rely on their old bag of tricks? Can you anticipate what they will do?

Choose your “finishing move”
Aw man! You just thought up the most awesome idea for the latest contest? Good… Now get it out of your system and think up a new one. Odds are it was the most obvious idea that half of the other entrants will end up building too. You can either try to be the best at executing that obvious idea, or instead you can kick it up a notch by adding a twist. Most of my winning entries were never that first idea that I had.

For that added twist, I try to think up a “fusion” idea that takes the contest genre in a new and different direction. For the “Rock n’ Roll Steampunk” contest, I built a snow covered floating island instead of the typical verdant grassy knoll. I also merged a steam train with a steamboat. For speeder bikes, I fused them into the Wild West setting of the “Lone Ranger”. Judges tend to gravitate towards builds that have a good mix of both the familiar and new.

Don’t “settle” for second best
Now that you’ve finally come up with your true killer idea, it’s time to get building. As your build comes together, remember that what’s “good enough” to meet the rules is not necessarily “good enough” to beat your competition. You aren’t competing against the contest rules. You are competing against your fellow builders. Be aware of what they actually do, and make any needed adjustments during the fight.

I see too many builders who appear to settle. They give the impression that they think their contest entries are like raffle tickets. They think they have an equal chance of winning as long as they just enter something good enough by the deadline that meets the rules. Nope. Building contests are won on merit (typically), and not random chance (typically). The folks who settle like this are the contest’s cannon fodder, barely worthy of a participation brick badge. It’s even worse is when they are the “turd polishers” too, writing elaborate descriptions and backstories for their inferior MOCs. If they put that much time and effort into the building as they did in overcompensating they might stand a better chance. So keep buying those raffle tickets, chumps. I’m sure you’ll win someday… Or you can wake up, like I did, and tighten things up. “Push it to the limit!

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As I’ve said in a prior article, I used to think 2-3 really cool NPU ideas/shapes for a build were good enough, and I “settled” by neglecting the details on the rest of it. That all changed with my M-Wing victory. I realized that you have to give equal importance to the entirety of the build. Now I’ve established a “one day” rule for myself; Every time I think the build is done, I let it rest at least 24 hours. If I don’t come up with any further improvement ideas in that time, then it likely is done.

Get some good sparing partners
Getting an early critique from others on your WIP (work in progress) can be helpful to identify those areas of your MOC that you might be “settling” on. This isn’t something that I normally do during a contest, but I know it has helped others. You can send a pal a private e-mail with the WIP photos, or use the private image feature in flickr and send a link. You can even expand these sparring sessions into some live build-chats with a bunch of other folks from your ‘dojo’. This can really raise the level of competition, amp up the competitive spirit, and be a helluva lot of fun… but it may also lead you astray from achieving victory if you get too caught up in it. Remember this when you join up with the Cobra Kai dojo – YMMV (your mileage may vary). In the end, it’s Johnny that gets to the finals and is still the dojo’s favorite to win.

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The “commit” part is to build your MOCs like you are never going to take them apart… Ever. Get those stickers/parts that you need to finish the model in style. You hear those builders saying “I’m not going to Bricklink any parts this time” for their entry? That mentality is for suckers who don’t want to win, or suckers who want to have a ready-made excuse for when they don’t win (the exception being people who already have a crap-ton of bricks in the first place, and likely already have all the parts they need… if they could only find them).

Starting my collection out of my dark age, I always viewed contests as the “Lego rich getting Lego richer”. The people that have the good parts selection are going to have the good builds. Doing the best you have with what you’ve got usually won’t even get you a cookie. To even that playing field, you have to go and buy those needed parts and stickers that make your model look its best. For the M-wing, I bought the smoke colored canopy, stickers to put on the canopy and wings, and the mini-figure pilot. I do draw the line on cutting parts, and most contest rules do too anyways.

Back to stickers. If the contest allows, get them (or make them) and apply them. What’s that you say? You don’t wanna, because you’re a “purist”? You don’t wanna because you plan to use those parts again for something else? With that lack of commitment, I guess you don’t wanna win either. “It’s a waste of life!

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Making your own stickers is easier that you think if you have a printer at home. This is all it takes – Once you find a cool graphic or font to use, go buy some print-on address label stickers (the ones that are 2-5/8 inch x 1 inch). With the size of most Lego parts, you usually won’t need to print out anything larger. This also allows you to “print on demand” without wasting an entire sticker sheet. Just print what you need, peel, and save the rest of the sheet for later. Generally the white labels are the best to use. I’ve tried out the transparent/translucent address labels, and they are only really good on white or light gray parts.

You may also want to apply some shiny clear packaging tape over them. This is to give the sticker some strength, protect the printing, and give it a shiny look to match the shine of the plastic surrounding it. To do this added step, it is handy to have an already spent sticker sheet that you can use to put it all together. You can temporarily apply the printed label to the left over wax paper, then apply that shiny tape over the label, and then cut around the printed graphic to complete your sticker. I use the scissors of a small Swiss army pocket knife to cut around the graphic, and then the tweezers to peel off the backing and apply the sticker…. “It’s a good thing.”

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You could even go the extra mile and buy some custom parts. I bought some chromed parts out of Europe for one of the speederbike contests, although I never ended up using them (part tolerances, ugh). You could buy some custom screen printed bricks too. For on-line build contests though, I think the stickers get the job done. If your build will be shown in public, you may want to get custom printed bricks done instead (if allowed in the rules).

Discipline your image
This means taking good photos, with good lighting and clean photo editing. This means going the extra mile, stretching the rules, and building sweet dioramas. However don’t let that overshadow the model itself (that can lead you back down the path of “turd polishing”)

Photography and photo-editing merit their own dedicated articles. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you out, especially if you are on flickr. In the end, you will have to find the solution that works best for your situation. To get the win, you will likely need to practice your photography and photo-editing just as much as building.

And finally, “Sweep the leg!”
Well… not exactly. “Sweep the leg” in the context of this article means that you need to do the things that you may not want to do to win… like waking up at the crack of dawn, and cracking open some raw eggs to guzzle down. To have any chance of winning, you can’t be lazy. You have to do those little things that give you an edge, and that sharpen your gladiator sword. It does not mean resorting to underhanded tactics against your competitors, or poor sportsmanship. That’s just bad karma.

What’s even more important that winning the contest is maintaining a good standing within the building community. You want to be competitive, not combative. It’s that community that judges these contests too (especially in FBTB contests with open voting). If you ever want to be invited back to compete, don’t bite off a piece of your competitor’s ear. “Fly high now!

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All of this advice alone isn’t enough to get you the win, but it paves the way to become a consistent title contender. Along with this knowledge, you still need that competitive fire within you to improve your building skills, that “Eye of the Tiger”, and a little bit of luck. Rocky didn’t win his first championship bout, but he gave it a good fight against Creed that kept the people talking about rematches and sequels. The Karate Kid took his lumps, and his limp, and eked out a dubiously edited victory (…C’mon man. There’s no way that he actually gets past Dutch).


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“Blog or Die!”
… and what about this “Blog or Die!” contest thingy? “Get them a body bag… yeahhhhhh!!!” because this article just laid the competition flat on their backs. You think you’ve got what it takes? Then get off your backsides and show me what you’ve got! MATANGO!

Hey Mr.Miyagi! We did it! We did it! Alright! Woohoo!”

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13 thoughts on “Ted Talks: “Sweep the Leg!” (Blog or Die! Entry #2)

  1. Good advice Ted. Also, don’t invite builders better than you to join a contest they weren’t initially interested in. I’m not sure I totally agree about stickers though, if you are good enough (not me) you don’t need them. For those builders they think adding stickers is trying to add polish to a turd. 🙂 I just don’t want to add to my box of stickered parts I haven’t taken the time to peel off.


    1. Thanks for the comments man. Victories always feel a little hollow if you aren’t competing against the best (Think we covered some of that motivation stuff in the comments of Rutherford’s “Give me the Prize” article)… if you are Jonesin’ for the prizes though, I guess keep the contests tight lipped.

      My main point on stickers is really having an attention to the details, and investing in the parts that would improve the build. It goes hand-in-hand with the “don’t settle” theme. Make your MOC the very best it can be. Place those stickers. Cut that tubing. Buy that part… Now this does take some honest self-reflection too. If you see you are up against tough competition and it wouldn’t help give you the edge, then you may want to cut your losses. Save up that budget to fight another day.

      P.S. – at least 75% of my mentioned wins/places had some kind of added stickered detailing… just speaking from experience. They can polish silverware too.

      The other thing I forgot to mention is that most of the contests I enter are sci-fi related. Some of these rules of thumb might need to be adjusted for other themes, like architecture, castle, Bionicle, or replica building. Would be interested in hearing other peoples experiences in those areas.


    2. The other reason I tie “stickers” so much with commitment is that I equate it to building a replica model where attention to detail is vital… Without them, it would be as if you purchased a hobby model kit at the store and decided not to put on the waterslide decals (whether on a fighter plane, or a car’s brand logo on the hood, etc.) because you don’t want to commit to how it will look. Putting them on gives it an added level of authenticity… Maybe it’s because I entered the Lego hobby though trains that I have this attention to making things look like a replica model. As much grief as we give them for their social skills, we can still learn a thing or two…


  2. I once won a contest, almost forgot. It was a contest to build a tower or something run by ForbiddenCove.com which I just checked and it seems to no long exist so I have no proof of my glorious victory. Maybe I should stick to what I’m good at, Pirates!

    Funny note, my wife was certain she had busted me visiting a lewd sitr when she found forbiddencove.com in the browser history only to find out is was a LEGO site. She got a good laugh out of that.


    1. No proof, it didn’t happen. Loser! LOSER!!! LOhooo…ser!

      Right?! You click on one, or maybe eight or so, gay Swedish tranny midget tentacle bondage Jello wrestling sites and you’re wife thinks you’re “odd”. “No, Honey. It’s research! For, uh, a Lego contest. Yeah! Lego.” Yup. Been there. Good laughs. good laughs. Forbidden”L”ove.com, legal in most countries without extradition. XDDD


  3. And in this corner… Ted “The Mountain Range” Andes!!!!!

    Excellent article sir! Going at this rate (Two entries total) you and that Bionical Papist guy have 1st and 2nd place LOCKED DOWN between you!

    I like the topic, the clips, and your rhetorical style (Well duh… pretty boiler plate here at the boiler plate factory!)

    But I find your treatment of the subject to be inconsistent. What? Incon… what?

    Regard… Most of your suggestions are focused on principals. Things that never change from one contest to another. Commitment to excellence in execution. Developing your knowledge of your competition. Of the judges. Of your greater audience. The practical value of sportsman like conduct. Waiting 24 hours ever time you think your done (my personal favorite). All of this advice is good for almost every situation, so they are sort of like “Guiding Principals” It’s not the normal level for advice. It’s constant, and universal. Sort of… “Higher Thinking” It’s a level of focus that is often lost in our shiny loud busy hyper frenetic world. This really is Sensei level shite!

    But then you snap out of the lotus, and leap into fighting fury! You abandon the universal and start recommending very specific actions. More along the lines of “tactical” decisions. I’m talking about your discussion of stickers, and the new parts purchasing. Now… you know from your own personal (and totally valid) experience that these decisions HAVE IN FACT won you victory in more than one contest. Got that. Not in dispute. But I think those two topics (stickers, and buying parts) are totally dependent on the particular MOC or the particular contest. They are relevant factors, and at times as you point out, they can be decisive… but they aren’t principal level concepts (like the other stuff you discuss). Sometimes, you have the parts you need… even in a small collection. Some times a MOCs esthetic might be about minimalism or anonymity (stickers all the time?).
    My point is not that ONLY principals matter… or that tactics are shite. Quite the contrary. You can win or lose a fight at either level. You can win on one, and lose on the other. Ultimately (in the fight) both come into play simultaneously. The division between the two is largely illusionary. We separate them deliberately in order to discuss them each more clearly. My point is that within the context of your article, the transition from the principal level to the tactical is sort of abrupt. I would go so far as to call it an inconsistency of focus.

    Personally, I found the principal level concepts in your article to be the best parts by far. A badly needed departure form the tactical. We are choking on tactical concepts daily. Everybody running around yelling about what happened “this one time” at band camp and not talking enough about what generally happens every year at band camp. Or even better, what happens in most summer camps every year. Your spotlighting the importance of situational awareness (the judges, the competition, the audience, and the rules) personal conduct, mental and emotional commitment, selfless critique, and waiting a day before pulling the trigger… That was all sweet music to my ears man.

    Good shite!


    1. Thanks for the critique – the intention was to show examples of acting on those principles at the tactical level… But your point is well made that going “too deep” on those tactical things implies giving equal importance in the value of the lessons. Should have separated that out more in some way. With more fancy publishing options, could have extracted those “good things” and placed the in those descriptive asides/insets… Guess the quest for achieving Rutherford level word counts got the best of me ;)… But I’m getting within reach of you in article counts…


      1. If achieving Rutherfordian word counts is your goal, I’m thinking you need to reevaluate every decision you’ve ever made in your life because you are clearly insane.


  4. I love the principle of full commitment. That alone separates everyone in any competition. I think in the first Decisive Action there was a player that wanted there to be an award for the most land acquired without having a battle. Needless to say, we raked that little shit through the coals for even suggesting a “Peace Cow Award” in a damn war game. Normally I would have ignored it; however, in our alliance our strategy was a two pronged attack of smack against him. I was the worst, completely relentless to the point where Keith actually asked me to tone it down and the guy eventually quit the game. But it was so unlike me to do, but I was 100% committed to winning. And even though the award for the first kill went to someone else, it should have technically gone to me for being a total jerk and forcing everyone to actually commit to the game or get the hell out of the way for the rest of us. But it was the game. It was all a game and was nourished by trash talk and rhetoric. And when you bring a knife to a gun fight, expect your ass to get handed to you.

    The 24 hour guideline is an absolute must. I love walking away from a project or starting a different one just to get a better view and a mental rest. I do that with art and work, I find it actually reduces tunnel vision in general. For builds it works even better because there is such a wealth of info and examples out there that it would be foolish to ignore. Asking buddies or a wifey that hates spaceships what she thinks of the spaceship you are currently building is not only fun in a playing with fire sort of way, but a completely opposite viewpoint. It’s irritating as fuck, but if you can drop the ego for a moment it becomes somewhat valuable. In competitions, it’s priceless.

    Great article and entry, I think there’s more left to the fates than can be planned for but I think the general idea of the only thing that anyone can do is their best was well established. And thank you for saying what I have forever, how the fuck did Dutch lose?


    1. Thanks Matt – another aspect of the 24 hrs rule is that near the end of MOC completion, you will have likely come up with quite a few good solutions to building problems… however, your brain can still be amped up, and it runs in a kind of subconscious “problem solving mode” after the fact. During the day while I’m at work, it’s like there is a background program routine going on in my mind. Out of the blue, I come up with a few additional ideas to problems I may have found at least a partial solution for (what if I try this instead? or how about this?…). The 24 hours seems enough time for me to let that mental process run it’s course. If I did come up with a new idea, then the clock rests for another 24… deadlines permitting.

      Dutch… I remembered when watching the movie as a kid and I saw “Danielle” having to go against him, I thought “well this is where it ends.” Dutch should have watched enough of “Danielle’s” strategy by that, with sensei by his side no less, to come up with a strategy. He was a top antagonist too. That fight deserved to last a helluva lot longer on screen too…. it was pretty much the movie equivalent of “yada, yada, yada”.. or “and a miracle happens”


      1. I’m curious as to where the butcher paper comes into play with this philosophy. 😀

        And not to sidetrack your article, but the real antagonist of the movie was actually Daniel. I wouldn’t want to recommend watching it again to anyone as once was enough, but watch it with that idea and you’ll see that he was the real instigator of all his problems. He deserved a Kobra Kai ass kicking.

        And if we critique another clip from your article, there is no fucking way Rocky could outrun Action Jackson. No way!


      2. I’m glad you asked… Butcher paper comes into play as the WINNING backdrop of my Lone Ranger themed speederbikes! … And the WINNING photo-backdrop for the M-wing (I changed that to a solid color afterwards)… and the photo backdrop of a recent contest MOC of mine whose fate is yet to be determined…

        In the context of BW16, butcher paper was about not showing up empty handed to my first con. No “eyes on the prize” there. Slapping a last minute, two-table collab together within 6 weeks, when you don’t have the brick to cover 1/2 a table, you find a way… You were ragging on it as a lack of commitment back then, and you were right on. Taking it out of context, it definitely was.

        Danielle was an annoying Jersey boy to be sure. Everything is “the best” with those guys. I wanted to punch him myself when he had to chime in to his apartment manager “I got an Uncle Louie in Parsippany!”… good for you kid. Go tell it to the wall.

        Maybe Action Jackson got some sand in his shorts that day…


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